A new city manager of Aspen will likely not be in place until September or October, according to Drew Gorgey, who is leading the search for the firm Peckham & McKenney.
Gorgey laid out the projected hiring timeline for city council members in a work session Tuesday evening.
The public will have a chance to give input on May 13 and 14. Gorgey is working with a sub-committee made up of himself, members of the city’s human resources department, and council member Ward Hauenstein to work out what that community engagement will look like.
“It’s going to look something like an open house drop-in, where I’m literally sitting and listening and may guide some discussions and take notes,” Gorgey said after the work session.
Along with the public outreach, those mid-May dates will include one-on-one meetings between Gorgey and sitting council members, as well and the incoming council members and mayor. He will also meet with the city’s leadership team and the city manager’s direct reports.
Those initial meetings will lead to the creation of a candidate profile that will be used in recruiting and screening applicants. Gorgey told council there is no way to know how many applications to expect, but he gave a ballpark estimate of 30 to 80. He also warned the council that Aspen will have unique challenges in finding a leader.
“I anticipate that from a certain point of view this position will be very popular and attractive, but I want to be very clear this is a very hard position to fill,” Gorgey said. “I hold no illusions about how hard it will be; cost of living is an issue, resort communities are not for everyone, winter is not for everyone.”
Gorgey himself has worked in Colorado local governments for 22 years. He was a manager for Garfield County and served as an interim manager for Glenwood Springs in 2016 and 2017.
He said he understands that Aspen is above average in the public’s desire to be involved in the civic process. But he also warned council that in the end, it’s the elected officials’ role to choose the next city manager and that it might not match the first choice of citizens or city employees.
“Every citizen, every person who participates who is not a city council member, needs to understand from the beginning, right now, that the only people with the authority and the responsibility to choose the city manager are the city council, period,” Gorgey said.
Once the candidate profile is created, a brochure will be printed that outlines the duties of the job and compensation, as well as information about the community. The brochure will be sent to 300 to 400 local government contacts country-wide and a digital advertisement will go out as well.
A closing date for applications has been tentatively set for July 8. The initial application only requires a resume and cover letter.
Gorgey will cull the applicants and send the top 10 to 15 candidates an in-depth questionnaire probing their thoughts on leadership, communication style, community priorities and other issues. Finalists will meet for interviews with city council, currently scheduled for August 8 and 9. By law, the names of the final applicants will be made public.
A job offer might be extended at that time, but negotiations could stretch out the announcement of the selection beyond that. It then may be another several months before the applicant would be able to move to town and begin work.
Three of the current city council members roll off the board in June and will not be part of the final decision. Hauenstein still has two years left on his council term and said he is glad incoming members Skippy Mesirow, Rachel Richards and Torre will be consulted from the beginning.
“I’m looking forward to the process and really interested in getting the council-elect involved in the ideas for a profile,” Hauenstien said.
Gorgey said it is a sign of a healthy government that the outgoing council wants to include the newly elected officials. He also said the public should have peace of mind because there is a strong interim city manager in place. Sara Ott is currently filling the role since the departure of longtime city manager Steve Barwick earlier this year. Ott has said she does not know yet if she will apply for the permanent role.
Beyond the one-day public outreach event, Gorgey said he and Interim Assistant City Manager Alissa Farrell are discussing setting up an email address where people can write in their thoughts.
“We are excited to start the process and really now this is when the work begins,” Farrell said.
More information about the kickoff event in May will be released soon and stakeholders will be identified over the next couple of weeks. But Gorgey stressed that ultimately it will come down to the five members of the next city council.
“That doesn’t mean that your community wasn’t listened to or that the process came up short somehow,” said Gorgey. “The fact of the matter is the people who are elected into these jobs have that authority and that responsibility and them alone so everybody needs to be on the same page on that from the start.”